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Zombie fanatics across the nation beware — the zombie apocalypse is here. These aren’t the typical Hollywood zombies or a human walking dead that citizens need to fear, but tiny honey bees. Zombie bees, or Zombees, are the newest threat to Mother Nature.
The culprit of this affliction isn’t due to a toxic viral outbreak or a government experiment gone wrong. The guilt falls on a tiny parasite, Apocephalus borealis, or the phorid fly, which is infecting and killing North American honey bees.
The PLOS Biodiversity Hub, a research company, published a research article on Jan. 3 titled “A New Threat to Honey Bees: The Parasitic Phorid Fly Apocephalus Borealis.” Symptoms shown by infected bees include hive abandonment, flying at night, and disoriented flying or crawling. Infected bees are attracted to lights and are often found dead on sidewalks under light sources.
Shortly after the parasite takes control, the bee dies. But death is not the last stop for the bee. About 13 days after infecting the bee, the phorid fly’s larvae emerge from the dead bee’s body and go off to infect the next bee.
The most recent test was completed in the San Francisco Bay area, and reported that 24 of the 31 sample sites showed infected bees.
“That’s a lot of bees, and that’s really creepy about the parasites,” said Cameron Serna, a Weber State University senior. “I don’t like thinking that a bug can take control of another; what if it happens to humans?”
Phorid flies are small and resemble fruit flies. A distinguishing feature of the flies is that, when escaping, they choose to run across surfaces instead of taking flight. Female phorid flies land on the abdomens of the bees and insert their ovipositros, or egg-laying organ, into the bee’s body for 2-4 seconds. After several days, 1-13 mature phorid flies emerge from between the bee’s head and thorax.
Currently, the phorid fly has not been linked as a contributor to the Colony Collapse Disorder. CCD is the phenomenon of bees suddenly disappearing from hives.
“I have heard of the Colony Collapse Disorder, but I don’t know much about it,” said Brian Southwick, WSU senior. “I remember reading how important the bees are to pollination and everything; I hope they get that figured out soon.”
The phorid fly is killing a large amount of bees, but research doesn’t show any effect on the population as a whole.
Benjamin Meyer, who runs a small bee farm in North Ogden, said he hasn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary with his bee colonies.
“My bees are healthy, and we haven’t had any problems,” Meyer said. “I think I would know if my bees started acting like zombies.”
A citizen science project called ZomBee Watch, at www.zombeewatch.org, has put together information on how to help track the progress of the parasite. Anyone can become a “citizen scientist,” learn how to capture possibly infected Zombees, and confirm infections. At this time, one sample from North Salt Lake is in the testing stage.